Students at Barbarito & Beyers Preschool in Mays Landing took to the polls on election day to make their voice heard on one of the most pressing issues of their early academic life: choosing their school pet.
The candidates were a hamster, a hermit crab and a fish. Teachers taught lessons about each of the choices in the days leading up to the election, discussing their diets, behaviors, and the pros and cons of taking care of each one, and explained to the kids the importance of voting.
Dr. Bill Beyers, co-owner of the school with his wife, Janice Barbarito, said he felt the event served as a good introduction to the electoral process.
"This makes everyone familiar with the entire reality of what's happening around them right now, but it's on their level, something that they really want to vote for, and it's something they really want within their school," Beyers said.
One by one, students filed into a red, white and blue-decorated refrigerator box, placing a sticker next to a picture of their choice.
After the votes were tallied, the hamster was announced as the winner, to loud cheers from the students. Beyers and Barbarito's 4-year-old English bulldog Oscar, dressed in red, white and blue, visited the class after the result was revealed, further exciting the kids.
The students were quiet and respectful of the voting process and were accepting of the result, impressing Beyers. He said that while this was their first time settling a class decision by vote, it likely won't be the last.
"They could not have been any more into it, for it being, let's say a pilot, I think we're going to be using voting more often for a lot of different things," Beyers said. "When they do have to make decisions in classes, their motivation level is extremely high."
Despite the fact that they were voting for school pet, the students still discussed amongst themselves for whom they would have voted in the national election.
Mirroring the outcome of the real election, most students said they favored Barack Obama.
"If I voted for president, I would vote for Barack Obama because he doesn't want a lot of money, and he cares about the people," 7-year-old Skylar Leary said.
While it will be a decade or more until these students can vote in a presidential election, it's never to early to impress upon them the importance of performing this civic duty, teacher Brittany DiBuono said.
"I think it's an excellent lesson for them," DiBuono said. "They've been very excited about it. I think it's something that they're going to be involved in for the rest of their lives. They see their parents, their aunts and uncles going out to vote today for the president and major elections, so it kind of gives them a sense of being involved as well."
Barbarito & Beyers operates programs in Galloway, Cape May Court House, Buena Vista and Ventnor and has two locations in Mays Landing. They accept kids ages 6 weeks and older, and provide after-school care to kids as old as 10 years old.
For more information, call 609-625-0382 or visit them at barbaritobeyers.com
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